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The Future of Fashion, Part Seven: Carine Roitfeld

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

In this ongoing series,’s editor in chief, Dirk Standen, talks to a number of leading industry figures about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the fashion business.

“This is my new office,” Carine Roitfeld jokes when I meet her in the lobby of the Carlyle on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It is less than a week since she officially vacated her throne as editor in chief of Paris Vogue, and in this darkly lit grand hotel, it’s tempting to see Roitfeld, with her gray fur jacket and Russian roots, as a glamorous aristocrat in sudden exile. It’s an exile that will be short-lived, no doubt. She has already exerted an unmistakable influence on fashion, not once but twice: first with the porno-chic aesthetic she co-authored in the nineties as a stylist for Mario Testino and Tom Ford, then of Gucci; later, with her provocative, photo-driven, decade-long tenure at Vogue. Now everyone is speculating about her next act.

The moment we slide into a booth and Roitfeld removes a pair of Tom Ford sunglasses the size of saucers, a different woman emerges: talkative, immensely charming, unafraid to appear vulnerable, yet also fiercely determined. I barely have a chance to turn on my tape recorder before she is off and running on a variety of subjects: her mysterious departure from Vogue, the need to promote young talent, and dinners à trois with Riccardo Tisci and Karl Lagerfeld.

You were saying?
It’s strange for me to come back here to New York during the fashion show season and not to be the editor in chief of French Vogue. Of course, I’ve done it before when I was just a freelancer, but ten years is a long time. It’s like 20 times I came here for the shows, and suddenly I’m not the editor in chief. That’s a custom, so it’s hard to now be a freelance editor. But it’s exciting, too.

You’re skipping the circus this time?
I’m not going to the shows. Maybe I will see some friends at previews, but mostly I’ve come for the amfAR gala on Wednesday. I’m a big supporter of amfAR. And my son is giving an exhibition on Thursday. And I have to finish my book for Rizzoli. I’m very late, so it’s my last days to finish it. It’s supposed to come out September or maybe October of this year. So I have a lot of appointments. I’m quite busy.

The book is a look back at your career?
It’s a bit like that. I never like to go back, so to go back to a picture you did 20 years ago, it’s almost like going to a shrink. It’s a lot of emotion…Most of the pictures are the ones I did with Mario Testino…It’s mostly dedicated to Mario, that book.

Does one shoot stand out in your memory?
There are different ones, of course. I had a very good period where I was working at French Glamour and I was working for The Face. The “butcher” shoot with Eva Herzigova and those sort of stories. They’re memorable stories, and you say why? Maybe because it’s not just about fashion. It’s because it’s a moment of the time.

You’ve been working on the book with [editor] Olivier Zahm and [art director] Alex Wiederin?
Always I like to have trouble. It’s not easy to have two big personalities like Olivier Zahm and Alex Wiederin working together, with me in the middle. But I know “star wars.” I spent a lot of time between Tom Ford and Mario Testino, so I learned how to deal with it.

Speaking of Tom Ford, people are curious if you’re going to work together again.
No, no, I’m not going to work with Tom. That was ten years ago. If I look back at my CV, when I was freelance, I worked mostly ten years with Tom Ford at Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. And after [that] I stopped and it was ten years at French Vogue. Now it’s a new decade and I don’t want to be doing what I was doing ten years ago. Of course, Tom is my friend and if he asks me what I think, I will answer. But I will not go and stay one week before the show and work with him.

What did you think of the super-exclusive show he did in New York?
I think it was very smart of him, just 100 journalists in his shop, and he was talking about each model and he had a sense of humor, so you see a lot of people laughing, which is fun…He did totally the contrary of everyone else and he made a big buzz, a big excitement. I think it was good not to see the [clothes] afterwards immediately on the blogs. For the editors, you feel more VIP, and it makes the buzz bigger and everyone knows about the Tom Ford collection. And really nothing came out. It was very controlled. Tom is a very controlled person, so he controlled everything…And his genius is to make the girls even more beautiful than they already are. It’s his talent. One of the girls was my daughter, and when she came out, I was anxious for her, but I thought, my gosh, she had never been so beautiful…I don’t know what he’s going to do for the next one.

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